I’ll never forget the moment I realized that when I married my then fiance, Josh, I’d also be marrying a whole new family.
My mother-in-law-to-be said something (I don’t even remember what it was now) that made me feel as if she thought of me as a daughter, and it hit me: I wasn’t only gaining a husband through marriage, but a whole second family! It was the first time I’d considered that my pending marriage would join people other than Josh to my life.
I’ve been blessed and thankful to have in-laws that are absolutely AMAZING. From my father- and mother-in-law to my sister-in-law and all my brothers-in-law, I truly do have the absolute best in-laws. I’ve even had friends tell me I seriously lucked out in the in-laws department. =)
Recently, when a reader asked if we could publish an article about how to get along with in-laws, I thought I had little advice to offer. How could I give tips on getting along with family when in 12+ years of marriage, I’d never had to worry about that? But the more I thought about it, the more I felt this topic was important enough to be addressed.
Below is advice from wise friends whose opinions I very much respect. They’ve generously agreed to contribute to this article, and I appreciate them so much. If you have tips of your own, please feel free to leave them in the comments!
Take time to get to know your in-laws personally.
Cultivate a direct friendship between yourself and your mother-in-law. Set aside a specific day and time of the week to call and chat and catch up on things, especially if you don’t already see each other regularly.
Be willing to be the first to extend an olive branch.
. . . Especially if there have been disagreements in the past. After all, these are the people who raised your spouse. Regardless of how you might feel about each other, you both love the same person! So always be willing to extend the olive branch first — with a phone call, a dinner invite, a note, or whatever it takes.
Include your in-laws!
Invite your in-laws into your home, your life, and your holiday traditions. Be flexible with your traditions. Be willing to try traditions that your spouse and his family grew up doing. Your marriage is the joining of two families! It’s also important to start some of your own traditions. Remember that marriage is a blend and a mixture: Compromise and graciousness are the best tools you can possess.
Find common ground.
SOMETHING. ANYTHING. And focus on that. Text or call your in-laws to check on them. Send them pictures of the grandbabies during the week. Invite them over for dinner. Throw them a surprise birthday party.
Be willing to see things from their perspective and try to find something to love about them, if for no other reason than that they are your husband’s family and your children’s grandparents.
Never ask your in-laws for advice that you don’t really want.
Don’t talk about your kids’ behavioral problems in front of them unless you are prepared to hear unsolicited advice or “He’s just like his daddy!”
Recognize that some things, in the grand scheme of things, just aren’t worth the battle.
There are some hills that aren’t worth dying on. There are some things it’s not worth being “right” over. One friend’s in-laws insist that her children all look exactly like their daddy. She doesn’t think her kids look alike at all, but she just smiles and nods. She takes a deep breath and lets it roll off her back. In the big scheme of things, it just really doesn’t matter.
Never complain or vent about your spouse to in-laws (or your parents, for that matter).
Be very careful and make sure it’s a big deal before voicing any kind of complaint about your spouse to anyone. Never complain to your spouse’s parents, especially. Your husband is their child, and complaints can drive a wall between you and your in-laws. Even if they don’t, you never want others holding something against your husband that you’ve forgiven and are trying to forget about. When it comes to your own family or parents, it can be harder for them to forgive your spouse than it is for you. Many marriages have fallen apart or suffered damage because in-laws and parents were brought into relatively minor issues.
Once you get married, you’ve started a new family. Just remember that’s your primary family now. Your parents and siblings should take a backseat.
Be willing to put in the work for a good relationship — even if your in-laws don’t initially reciprocate.
One bride didn’t get along with her mother-in-law when she and her husband first got married. Her mother-in-law-to-be actually made her cry on her wedding day! But going forward, this girl made every effort to celebrate her in-laws.
She threw her mother-in-law a surprise party one year and hosted her father-in-law’s birthday party another. When children came into the picture, she regularly sent her in-laws texts about the kids and had them over for dinner often. Over time, their relationship did a complete 180.
Even though the bride did all the work, she feels it was worth it. Pursuing a great relationship with your in-laws, whether or not they initially put in any effort themselves, really mirrors the sacrificial heart of God.
Another friend says that her husband has a really strained relationship with his family — but at the end of the day, she wants them to be saved, and she doesn’t want her husband to have any regrets.
Though her in-laws live across the country, she meets them halfway with the kids for visits. Once, she drove the kids alone 14 hours for them to spend a week together!
“It was totally worth putting the effort into,” she says. “They are great grandparents even if they weren’t perfect parents, and that’s what matters at this stage in life. My husband is so grateful, and it really is worth the effort to be the one to bridge the gap.”
Don’t go into these types of relationships with expectations.
If you have all these expectations of what the relationship is supposed to be, you will most likely be disappointed. Go in with an open mind and start from the ground up.
Personalities are all different, and they come with good and with bad. So choose to look for the good.
Have the hard conversations when you need to.
As in any relationship, neither party can read the other’s mind. Sometimes you just have to have a heart-to-heart letting your in-laws know what they may be doing that’s hurting your relationship. And maybe in the process, you’ll realize things you’ve been doing that have been hurting them!
Before you talk to them, pray and then pray some more. Pray that you’ll say the right words and that you’ll have the confidence you need to say what needs to be said.
Remember that your spouse was once your in-laws’ sweet little baby that they raised, nurtured, and poured themselves into.
One friend said, “I cried every time we left my in-laws because of how mean my mother-in-law was to me — until I had her grandbabies. There’s no excuse for being treated mean, but when I had kids of my own, I realized I’d ‘taken’ her baby, and it made more sense to me.”
Realize doing things differently doesn’t mean either of you is doing them wrong.
Learn to just go with it. It’s raining? No problem. We can still have fun. We’re eating Christmas dinner on paper plates? Awesome. Nobody said Christmas dinner has to be on fine china. There are 500 loud, screaming kids? Cool, that means people are having fun.
Being flexible, especially over things that really don’t matter, is so important for keeping the peace, for being the kind of person everyone loves to be around, and for showing your in-laws grace.
Never make fun of or put down your spouse or their siblings.
You married in as the “outsider,” and there should always be a line of respect when it comes to your mother-in-law’s “babies.”
Don’t monopolize all of your husband’s time to where he can’t stay in touch with his mother and family.
Make sure your husband has time to call his mom and talk, especially if you live long distance. One friend has a family member whose wife talks in the background the whole time he is trying to have a conversation with his mother. Her attempts to disrupt the relationship aren’t helping her or anyone else.
Don’t feel threatened by your husband’s relationship with his mother; it is a good thing for your husband and his parents to have a good relationship. His relationship with them doesn’t take away from the one you have with him as long as your marriage comes first.
Don’t hurt your husband by breaking apart his relationship with his family. And if you have kids, think about it: Do you want them to get married someday and completely lose the relationship they have with you?
If your in-laws aren’t saved, realize the opportunity you have to be a witness.
One friend’s mother-in-law set out from the beginning to disagree with everything she was about because she didn’t want her son with an Apostolic girl. This friend stood her ground through a lot of disrespect, heartache, and just plain mistreatment.
At some point, she realized that she could say nothing to change her mother-in-law — so she made a conscious effort to love her mother-in-law regardless.
“I chose to let her words roll right past me. See, I have the power of the Holy Ghost, and it gives me a new set of eyes to view her with grace and forgiveness. She was looking at me with bitterness and hurt from a bad, failed relationship with the church previously. But love truly covers all! Once I just loved her no matter what was said or done, our relationship truly changed. She now reaches out to me. She has come to church and received the Holy Ghost! She’s not living this fully in any way, but I know that God is healing her and she will be restored!”
What if this friend had been hateful and spiteful back to mother-in-law when she was mistreated? How would that have shown her mother-in-law God’s forgiveness?
You don’t have to agree with your in-laws all the time, but you can still love your husband’s family unconditionally.
Even if you’re dealing with in-laws who are walking in truth, show forgiveness and grace daily. They aren’t the same person as you. They weren’t raised the same, and they have dreams and expectations for their family. Maybe some of those expectations were compromised when you joined the family, and they just need prayer so that their eyes can see the whole picture. Just love them, even if it hurts.
Keep a civil, kind relationship with clear boundaries.
Do the right thing even when in-laws don’t.
“We try to visit on holidays, big birthdays, and sometimes big church events for their church,” one friend says. “If they [cause problems], we remain calm and tell them we love them, but it’s now time to go. I stay quiet but kind. I don’t share personal information at all. I don’t ask for any advice from them or anything so that it can’t be said I ‘use’ them for anything. I’m simply there out of love.”